El Niño is having a beneficial side effect on the long-running California drought, filling many reservoirs to capacity. Unfortunately, it’s only affecting Northern California, which has been rocked by a series of soakers over the past few months. All that rain, a byproduct of the naturally occurring El Niño in the tropical Pacific Ocean, has blanketed the state, filling once-dusty lakes like Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville. They have either reached capacity or surpassed historical levels. Some are even using their floodgates.
The LA Times notes that the “growing snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, are important because both are key sources of water for California. The snowpack now stands at 92% of normal statewide, with the northern area now at 102% of normal.” That’s great news for a state being hammered by a four-year-long naturally occurring drought.
Previously, Governor Jerry Brown has blamed global warming for California’s long-running drought despite numerous studies indicating that natural variability and mismanagement of water resources were to blame. Now California residents are complaining about having to pay a drought surcharge on water, while nearby reservoirs are full or at capacity and releasing water via their floodgates.
Currently, California’s water issues favor the agriculture industry, which eats up over 80 percent of all water used in the state. And after four years of drought and a strict water conservation mandate, many California residents are wondering why they still have to pay these surcharges and abide by onerous watering restrictions. San Diego has requested relaxing these conservation efforts and may get some relief.
There was so much water dumped on the northern half of the state in December and January that “engineers began releasing water from Folsom Lake near Williams’ Granite Bay home for flood control reasons.” Now March is ending up being another wet month as even larger reservoirs are filling “up to and above their normal levels.” There’s only one problem. The mandates and fines for using water are still in use even as overages in many reservoirs are being released.
Consumers who don’t meet the governor’s restrictive “water conservation requirements face fines of $500 per violation per day.” Regulators argue that they still aren’t out of the woods and have extended the mandates into the fall, even as they dump excess water from reservoirs that have reached capacity. All of which is infuriating residents.
And because the governor has spent more time and taxpayer dollars on making California a “renewable energy” state, investments into its aging water infrastructure have been lacking. Because the state is so large (imagine if New York down to South Carolina was one enormous state) you begin to understand the challenges it faces in terms of acreages. While the northern half of the state gets soaked, other regions aren’t as lucky. At least not yet.
And as the current El Niño winds down, many fear that the much-needed rains will fizzle away. Historically, El Niños of this strength are followed by La Niñas, which have the opposite effect on the weather globally. The strong El Niño has been blamed for the increased temperatures for January and February in much of the United States.
Others have tried to tie global warming and El Niño to the warmer temperatures, even though the historical record for temperatures is a mixed bag of missing measurements, limited duration, and non-standardized recordkeeping. Some have been eager to bind the warmer winter weather that the United States just experienced to global warming, even as much of the Northern Hemisphere felt the nasty effects of a colder-than-normal winter.
And as California looks toward another summer of water restrictions, residents are reminded once again that only a portion of the “state’s watersheds are connected to the massive system of dams and reservoirs that ferry water south.” That alone makes it impossible to “sell or ship it elsewhere” or keep it “stored for next year.” But on the bright side, they will have a high-speed train that no one wants or needs.
According to Pamela Tobin, board president of the San Juan Water District, which has seen a bountiful rainfall, “People are just outraged. The lake is filling, but our people are still being told that they need to conserve by 36 percent.” One professor who studies “water politics” at Cal State in Fresno, says this needless government waste of a precious resource like water is feeding distrust of government. “This is the same distrust playing into the Trump and to some degree Bernie Sanders campaigns.”
For the first time in four years, Folsom Lake has opened its floodgates. Previously, the lake was a mere puddle but is now filled to capacity (see video).